Partisan sniping hampers bill proposed by Aspen’s state senator to celebrate public lands |

Partisan sniping hampers bill proposed by Aspen’s state senator to celebrate public lands

Scott Condon | The Aspen Times
A high altitude lake glistens in the Holy Cross Wilderness in the Upper Fryingpan Valley. Two legislators who represent parts of the Roaring Fork Valley want to create a Public Lands Day.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times |

A bill introduced by Aspen’s state senator with the simple intent to celebrate the value of public lands has been snared in partisan sniping but crossed a hurdle Monday.

The Colorado House of Representatives voted 39-26 to support a proposal by Vail Democrat Kerry Donovan to designate the third Saturday in May as Public Lands Day.

Now it faces another test. The measure must return to the state Senate because a House committee amended language initially approved by the other chamber. If the senate accepts the new language, the bill will go to Gov. John Hickenlooper for his signature, and Public Lands Day would be formally celebrated starting May 2017.

“I’m going to ask my colleagues to agree or concur with the language,” Donovan said. She feels confident that the leadership will call up the bill for a vote before the session ends in 13 working days, she said. She’s also confident about approval of language, which she said is a compromise. She noted that dispute hasn’t been over actually creating Public Lands Day but declarative language associated with it.

Donovan introduced the bill this session to send a “positive message” about public lands managed by the federal government, she said in a previous interview. She helped defeat a bill last session that urged the state to study acquisition of federal lands.

The Republican-controlled Senate passed Donovan’s bill but it emerged out of the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee with language critical of federal land management. One legislative insider said a prominent Republican wanted to use the bill to “stick it in the eye of the federal government.”

Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, a Steamboat Springs Democrat whose district includes Routt and Eagle counties, said at a Town Hall meeting in Basalt last month that the Republican amendment was “horrible” and the House would change the language. She was a House sponsor of the bill.

A House committee amended the language last week, and the bill came to the floor Monday.

“It got rid of what we felt was unnecessary language,” Mitsch Bush said. For example, there were declarative sentences that claimed Coloradans overwhelmingly felt a certain way about land management. Those political claims were eliminated because they cannot be proven, she said.

The House added language from a bill that received widespread nonpartisan support last year. That language said “early and consistent cooperative and collaborative involvement of local governments in federal land-management decision-making process can improve federal land-management outcomes, reduce conflict and save state, local and federal resource.”

In a concession to critics of federal land management, the wording was amended to say local residents and state agencies should be consulted and relied upon to lead efforts to protect endangered species.

Mitsch Bush said celebrating public lands makes sense for Colorado and Western Slope counties in particular because they comprise so much of the territory. About 36 percent of all Colorado lands are managed by federal agencies, but that number is 75 percent in Eagle County and 55 percent in Routt County, she said. More than 80 percent of Pitkin County is federal land.

“Public lands have an impact on our quality of life,” Mitsch Bush said.

The stunning natural wonders on public lands also prime Colorado’s economy, she said. Many companies choose to locate in the state because of the opportunities on public lands, she said.

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